One of the most important pieces of a successful inbound marketing strategy is the content, yet so many marketers are so far off in their content strategy. This causes frustration throughout the organization, inefficient marketing, and many times an abandonment of content marketing all together.
This column should serve as an overview of how to create an effective and targeted content strategy that will drive targeted prospects to your website, convert them into quality leads, and make your sales team and boss love you.
Start With Your Personas
Whether it's marketing or product development, everything you do in your business should all start with your personas. Your company's personas should be at the heart of everything you do in your inbound marketing strategy, including content.
A persona is a complete fictional character profile that is based on your ideal customers who share common problems, needs, and wants. They are written up almost like you're writing a profile about a real person and include both business and personal information.
You will need to meet with your entire organization, most importantly sales, to get the necessary input to create an accurate and in-depth persona profile. Topics should include persona problems, objections, general background, challenges between you and them, marketing messages, elevator pitch, outside of work, etc.
The reason this is so important is because the more targeted and relevant you can make your content, the bigger impact it will have in driving behavior with your readers. It's the same idea as email marketing. The more you can segment your lists and tailor emails that are relevant to the interests of that list, the higher performance and business impact that email will have.
If you would like to learn more about creating a persona, read my blog post, "Personas Will Rock Your Inbound Marketing & Sales."
Map It All Out: Lifecycle Stage Is Key
Once you've identified your personas, you then need to start thinking about what is going through those personas' heads.
To make your life easier, I've created a basic inbound marketing content strategy template that you can use in developing your content strategy. This should be used as a general guide, but feel free to change and modify it based on your business.
You can download the free template here.
Before working on your content strategy, it's important for you to understand each stage of the marketing funnel in terms of lead mindset, effective content, and messaging goals. Below is a simple breakdown of the inbound marketing funnel stages.
Realize Problem or Need (Driving Visitors)
At the very top of the inbound marketing funnel your goal is to drive prospects to your website. There are many different parts to this from social, email, etc., but the one we are interested in for this discussion is blogging.
I want you to think of your blog as the fuel of your content (and marketing) engine. Blogs can be used to boost the impact of all the other marketing channels (social, SEO, email, etc). Once developed over time it will prove to be the biggest driver of traffic to your website and be one of your company's biggest digital assets.
Blogs should be short, easy-to-read content that helps answer and solve mini-problems your personas may be having. Many times your blogs will be tied to a bigger content offer such as an e-book or webinar that give a more detailed look at the topic.
The blog is one of the pieces that will drive a prospect to your website but it is only after she converts on a content offer that she becomes an actual lead that you can further market to.
Perform Research (Top Funnel)
At this stage your lead has already decided that she has some sort of problem or potential problem and is now performing research to see what possible solutions are out there.
The lead is looking for great quality, vendor neutral information about different problems within a particular focus. It should also be very introductory level and have a global appeal so that it will answer many of the initial questions the lead may have.
In this stage content types that work effectively are e-books, webinars, research guides, reports, etc. Again, I can't stress enough how important it is to keep this non-biased, non-promotional, and focused around amazing quality content that delights and educates that person.
Establish Buying Criteria (Middle Funnel)
Here your lead has decided that she does have some sort of problem and is now doing research to find out all the available options and approaches to solve it. Your goal in this stage is to educate the lead on what she should be looking for in a good solution. The trick is to keep all the information purely educational with little to no mention of sales messages.
In this stage there are a few more styles of content that work especially well in bringing across the feeling and messages you want at this stage. These include white papers, webinars, comparison guides, detailed guides, etc.
Evaluating Vendors (Bottom Funnel)
The last stage in the inbound marketing funnel is the decision stage where the lead has narrowed her choices down to you and one to two other competitors. At this stage she has already made up ~60 percent of her purchasing decision. Remember, this all occurs before even speaking to someone at your company.
If your inbound marketing has been done correctly it will be your best sales team member. The lead will be very interested in your solutions, have a great deal of education on the topic, and be biased toward your solution over competitors.
Some good examples of content that works well at this stage include product demos, free trials, free consultations, case studies, detailed product specific information, etc.
Once converted on a bottom funnel offer, the lead is marked as a marketing qualified lead (MQL) and handed off to the sales team to start the sales process. Then the sales team will take a deeper look and decide if she is truly a sales qualified lead (SQL).
The more you can keep the persona and lifecycle stage in mind when developing your inbound marketing content strategy, the better performance and higher quality leads you will see.
Once you have created an inbound marketing content map then you can start thinking about how you can incorporate SEO into the mix. Start using keyword and search tools to find the best titles and copy to include in your content to ensure it will be found by those who are searching online.
The reason that I put this further down in the process is because the main goal of your content should be to educate and inform prospects and I feel if you put too much emphasis on SEO too early, this goal becomes forgotten. Don't lose sight on the goal of your content.
Review and Update
It's also important to consider that you should be revisiting both your personas and your content strategy map on a monthly or at the minimum quarterly basis. As new information and ideas come out, it will be important to include those into your persona profile and pivot your content accordingly.
Additionally, you should be proactive about getting everyone within your organization to help give ideas and feedback in your strategy. It's important that everyone be on board with everything you're doing on the marketing side since it's often the first contact the customer will have with your organization.
We are only scratching the surface of what you need to consider, however, this should give you a good general overview of how to start creating a smart inbound marketing content strategy. If you have questions or ideas, please comment below and I'd be happy to help.
Meet Your Favorite ClickZ Contributors
Many of ClickZ's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Jeremy Hull, Lisa Raehsler, Andrew Goodman, Bryan Eisenberg, Mathew Sweezey, Aaron Kahlow, Stephanie Miller, Simms Jenkins, Jeanne S. Jennings, Dave Hendricks and more!
Luke is an industry leading inbound marketing specialist and an expert in progressive strategies integrating content, relationships, automation, and communities to drive lead generation and build brands people love.
He is the Director of Inbound Marketing at Savvy Panda where he helps lead web and marketing success stories for medium to Fortune 100 companies. Additionally, Luke is also the head instructor of Master Inbound, a comprehensive online inbound marketing training course. Find Luke on Google Plus.
March 19, 2014